Ethical concerns in suicide research: thematic analysis of the views of human research ethics committees in Australia

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Background: Suicide research aims to contribute to a better understanding of suicidal behaviour and its prevention. However, there are many ethical challenges in this research field, for example, regarding consent and potential risks to participants. While studies to-date have focused on the perspective of the researchers, this study aimed to investigate the views and experiences of members of Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs) in dealing with suicide-related study applications. Methods: This qualitative study entailed a thematic analysis using an inductive approach. We conducted semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample (N = 15) of HREC Chairs or their delegates from Australian research-intensive universities. The interview guide included questions regarding the ethical concerns and challenges in suicide-related research raised by HREC members, how they dealt with those challenges and what advice they could give to researchers. Results: The analysis identified four main themes: (1) HREC members’ experiences of reviewing suicide-related study applications, (2) HREC members’ perceptions of suicide, suicide research, and study participants, (3) Complexity in HREC members’ decision-making processes, and (4) HREC members’ relationships with researchers. Conclusions: Reliance on ethical guidelines and dialogue with researchers are crucial in the assessment of suicide-related study applications. Both researchers and HREC members may benefit from guidance and resources on how to conduct ethically sound suicide-related studies. Developing working relationships will be likely to help HRECs to facilitate high quality, ethical suicide-related research and researchers to conduct such research.




Barnard, E., Dempster, G., Krysinska, K., Reifels, L., Robinson, J., Pirkis, J., & Andriessen, K. (2021). Ethical concerns in suicide research: thematic analysis of the views of human research ethics committees in Australia. BMC Medical Ethics, 22(1).

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